A look at the often misunderstood and confusing rights of tenants.
With rental vacancy rates in the GTA hovering around 1.6 per cent for purpose-built rental buildings and 1.3 per cent for condos, landlords seem to have most of the leverage these days. (Note on language: the term “landlady” has largely disappeared from modern usage, and our contribution to the gender-neutral lexicon, “landhuman,” has yet to gain traction, so “landlord” will be used throughout this post.) Whether you rent from a condo investor covering their mortgage or a faceless corporation looking to boost profit margins at the expense of your hot shower, it’s not an easy time to be a tenant.
Torontoist takes a look at what these rights are, and what recourse you have at your disposal.
It should go without saying that it’s illegal to discriminate against prospective tenants for reasons of race, religion, sexual orientation, country of origin, or disability. You also can’t be refused a rental because you’re on social assistance, or because you’ve got children. Subtler forms of discrimination, like draconian noise limitations that effectively ban kids, are also illegal. If you think this is happening, you can register a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario at 416-326-1312 or on their website.
However, prospective landlords may still ask for “income information, credit checks, credit references, rental history, guarantees or other similar business practices.”
At the time you rent, you’ll need a rental agreement, also known as tenancy agreement or lease, which is a legal contract between you and the landlord. It can be written or verbal, and should lay out things like how much rent you’ll pay and when, whether things like hydro or cable are included, and any rules specific to the place you’re renting. However, if anything in the agreement contradicts the Residential Tenancies Act, the RTA wins.
Your landlord must give you a copy of your written rental agreement within 21 days of the agreement’s effective start date. If you have a verbal agreement, your landlord must give you written notice of their legal name and address within 21 days after your tenancy begins (if this is your situation, you may want to consider carefully the wisdom of handing money to someone with whom you have no written agreement and whose name and address you don’t know).
Landlords are also required by law to provide you with a copy of the Information for New Tenants brochure from the Landlord and Tenant Board, on or before the date the tenancy begins.
What You Have to Pay
When you enter into an agreement, landlords can ask you for a deposit equivalent to last month’s rent (or last week’s if you’re renting weekly), as well as a security deposit sufficient to cover the cost of a new key or entry card. Most other move-in fees—damage deposits, commissions, key money, or whatever they’re called—are illegal. Interest must be paid annually on any deposits received. You also cannot be required to provide post-dated cheques or automatic payments, although you may agree to.
Raising the Rent
There are no rules around the rent that can be charged to a new tenant, so negotiate well. However, once you’re in, the LTB sets limits on annual rent increases for most units. The increase for 2015 is 1.6%, up from 0.8% in 2014. (Excepted units, for which there is no maximum increase, include those built after June 1998, those converted from buildings that weren’t residential before November 1991, and those that haven’t been rented since July 1975.) A landlord can apply to the LTB for an increase above guidelines if the cost for municipal charges has gone up by more than the guideline plus 50 per cent, or for eligible capital expenditures. Landlords can also apply for an increase above the guideline for operating costs related to security services and for eligible capital expenditures. Ninety days’ notice is required for any rent increase.
Right to Privacy
Your landlord can’t just come barging in during the drunken Twister game that you thought was going to turn into an orgy but just became awkward; he or she has to give you 24 hours’ notice. They can only enter between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and the notice must give details of when and why they’re going to be there. There can be exceptions in the case of emergencies, or if you’ve already given your notice and the place is being shown to prospective tenants.
A landlord is responsible for keeping the property in a “state of good repair”; if not, the tenant can make a complaint to the LTB, who may mandate a rent abatement or other penalty. However, if the place is in disrepair because you or your guests have actively caused it to be that way, you may be required to pay for the fix and possibly evicted.
A landlord cannot shut off heat from September 1 to June 15, or electricity or water at any time.
Subletting and Assigning
You can generally sublet or assign your rental unit to someone else under the same lease terms. While your landlord has to approve, this approval can’t be unreasonably withheld.
Leaving your unit is normally a matter of mutual agreement between yourself and your landlord. If you rent monthly, that means you’re obligated to wait until the end of any lease period and give 60 days’ notice.
However, there are a number of reasons you could get kicked out unwillingly, many of them fairly self-evident: non-payment of rent, illegal activities, damage to the premises, overcrowding, or good old “disturbing the enjoyment of other tenants or the landlord.” In these cases the landlord must send you a notice of termination, telling you how many days you have either to leave or to correct the problem. If you feel you’ve disturbed only a reasonable amount of enjoyment and decide not to leave, the landlord can’t force you out physically–they would probably file an application with the LTB, which normally results in a hearing where you’d get a chance to defend yourself.
Contrary to popular belief, your landlord can absolutely evict you in the winter, no matter how cold it is.
There are other reasons besides degenerate behaviour that could see you booted from your residence: if your landlord wants to use the space for family or caregivers, plans major renovations, or plans to knock the place down, you can be asked to move out. A “personal use”-type eviction can only happen on or after the last day of a fixed term tenancy and with appropriate notice. If you think your landlord isn’t acting in good faith and really wants to re-rent for more money, you can contest this type of eviction, but be aware that it’s very tough to prove someone else’s intentions.
The “Raising the Rent” section originally implied that all rental units are controlled by a maximum possible increase, when in fact some units are exempted. We regret the error.